Monday Brews 7-28-14

There are only a few Mondays left before Gen Con! Aside from game design and development it was a decent week. My mother-in-law fixed out bathroom ceiling. My softball team won the championship (back-to-back seasons)! And I was inspired by a Euro game.

So let’s get right to the coverage of the Boards & Barley I enjoyed last week.

The Barley:

Dark, smooth, tasty… and potent!

BARLEY SPOTLIGHT:
Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron

I had this too late in the evening to fully enjoy a 12%abv brew. However, I am looking forward to trying another one. This was one potent little beast with a woodsy character that made me wish I were sitting in a nice chair by a fireplace smoking a pipe. The inside of Bilbo Baggins’ home would suffice. Ultimately this beast was an enjoyable beer and I recommend you try it if you get a chance.

The Boards:

Four player render.

BOARDS SPOTLIGHT: Attika

Sometimes I am shocked by the simplicity of classic Euro games. In Attika you have two options on your turn: Draw buildings or Build buildings. Two choices. That’s it. How can you possibly make a compelling game from two choices? You make it compelling by adding tension, making it a race, limiting players options, and by adding a little bit of randomness so that not every game is identical. This game is so simple yet possesses an elegance that makes me jealous as a game designer. It’s not the greatest game ever made, but there is just something about it. It makes me want to start a game design by only giving players two options. It’s similar to games like Ticket to Ride where players only have three choices on their turn (play trains, draw train cards, draw route cards). That simplicity builds throughout the game and it makes for a pretty outstanding experience.

Designer’s Corner:

Such an old version. It's way better now.

Such an old version. It’s way better now.

As Gen Con approaches I find it is once again crunch time to prepare a game for demoing/playtesting. Last year I failed miserably to have Conclave ready to go. Though Conclave only had two or three real playtests so it didn’t deserve table time anyway. But I have found that I am still making some major changes to Brooklyn Bridge.

One issue is that it takes way too long. This has always been the case. One reason for that was because players would have to build the towers first, then they could work on the cable. Having this linear progression through the game combined with the mechanic for obtaining cable bundles caused a huge halt in the action and really killed the dynamic of the game.

So I am changing how it works. Now the cable will be an important aspect from the start of the game. Players will have to choose whether to contribute to the cable (long-term points) or contribute to the bridge (short-term points). Adding in a cable mechanic that forces players’ strategy from the start of the game should not only allow for quicker gameplay but also add a layer of decision space to the game.

Another change I made was to drop mortar from the game. Previously when players wanted to contribute to the bridge they would have to have one mortar per brick they were building. The result was that since players had to spend turns gaining bricks and other turns gaining mortar, the game slowed down. Now without mortar in the game it will be more of a fast-paced race where players will have more competition for building the bridge.

The final change I am looking forward to trying is that I dropped private scoring in favor of public scoring. I had created about 12 private scoring cards. These were horribly unbalanced and ultimately didn’t drive players’ strategy as much as I had hoped. So now I am converting the scoring conditions to a more Euro approach. This is accomplished by having some cards that are “Accomplishments” and having some cards that are endgame scoring conditions. For example, if players build 3 bricks in any one section of a tower they can take one of the scoring tokens for that accomplishment card. Then the scoring token is placed face down by their player mat and will be added to their score at the end of the game. This is pretty standard Euro fair and I think it will work quite well in this situation.

I’m excited about the current state of the game but I know I have a lot of work ahead of me. Many more playtests are required for this game before I’ll be happy with it, but progress is certainly being made!

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So what Boards & Barley have you been enjoying? How are your game designs coming along?

Grand Illusion: The Drafting Mechanic

Preliminary Logo

Today I continue with my open design for a game based on Victorian era magicians and illusionists. Two weeks ago I talked about the core mechanics of the game. I also mentioned the “currency” in the game being the different types of magic.

What this will ultimately boil down to is a set collection card game with a drafting mechanic and an inherent build up as players try to complete their secret Grand Illusion.

Note: I have not yet decided if I want each player’s Grand Illusion to be secret or not. If it is public then the drafting mechanic becomes more important as you can see what types of magic your neighbors may be working towards. And if you can see their magic types then you may want to take a sub-optimal card because it would have been a great card for them.

So let’s talk a bit about the drafting mechanic.

The Grand Illusion Drafting Mechanic

If you are unfamiliar with “drafting” here’s how it works:

  • You are dealt a bunch of cards.
  • You choose one card and keep it.
  • You pass the rest of the cards to your neighbor.
  • You receive the cards from your other neighbor.
  • You choose one of these new cards and keep it.
  • You pass the rest of the new cards to your neighbor.

Well, I’m not doing it quite like that. I want there to be a more random feel.

The struggle with making an awesome drafting mechanic is in the consideration of how you want players to feel throughout the process. I want the players to feel like magicians while playing this game. So how could my drafting mechanic incorporate that feeling?

I think there should be an element of sneakiness. Magicians utilize sleight of hand and I want an element similar to that. So I would want players to be able to have moments where choosing the right card was rewarding like a successful sleight of hand.

The question is: How do I accomplish that?

I would feel sneaky (or wise or clever) if:

  1. I put a bad card in someone else’s hand.
  2. I put a great card in a hand I knew I would receive.
  3. I was able to prevent another player from a great hand.
  4. I was able to craft a great hand for myself.

Those are a few things that would allow me to have a rewarding feeling and a feeling of accomplishment. Often, as a game designer, it is a challenge to take a concept of what you want and actually turn it into mechanics that meet that concept.

Concept to Mechanic

One way to accomplish this is to put out the Magic Trick cards on the table face up before the drafting occurs. This shows the players the types of tricks they have available to them that round. Then, once players have been dealt their cards, they will place one face up and one face down in front of them. Then:

  1. Pass to the left. Choose one card. Place face up on left neighbor’s pile.
  2. Pass to the left. Choose one card. Place face up on right neighbor’s pile.
  3. Pass to the left. Choose one card. Place face down on own pile.

What this creates is a magic hand of five cards. Three were chosen by you (one face up). One was chosen by each neighbor (face up). The other players may be able to remember what your final card was, but your first card will be a secret since you chose it before anyone passed their cards.

Now each player will have five cards in their hands. These cards will have the different currencies on them (the types of magic). In the middle of the table are the magic tricks that can be performed this round.

Players will use combinations of the magic types in their hands to fulfill as many magic tricks as they can. This fulfillment will be the topic of the next article on The Grand Illusion.

Hopefully this drafting mechanic will work to create an interesting dynamic between the cards one chooses to keep and the cards they choose to give to their neighbors.

Any thoughts about this? Remember, I would love to be designing this game with your feedback. Anything sound good, bad, or meh? Let me know.

Coarse vs. Fine: Editing your Game

When Michaelangelo started carving David he didn’t grab his tiniest chisel and smallest hammer. He grabbed his big chisel and big hammer (I assume). Why? Because he needed to coarse cut the stone away to roughly the right size. Then once the bulk of the stone was removed he could use his fine tools to chip away slowly.

This Coarse Vs. Fine concept is the core of this quick article on game design.

When designing a game it is often easy to think of a lot of awesome things that could be in the game. I know there are people who put in everything but the kitchen sink into their game designs and then remove things as we go. This coarse/fine idea fits well with that design concept. There are others who start with a simple mechanic or a theme and then add things only when needed. This article doesn’t address that situation. I’ll cover that design realm another time. But for those of you who start big and remove the unnecessary components, keep reading!

The Stone

You must choose wisely… Not really.

When you start a game design you’ll choose a mechanic or a theme or both. This is like going to the quarry and picking out the stone you’ll start with for the sculpture. When picking the stone you want to make sure it is big enough, has the right grain structure, possesses the desirable color and so on. Similarly, when choosing the mechanic and theme you’ll want to make sure you’ve got a lot of different components that fit with the theme and mechanic.

So go ahead and make your choice. Once you’ve got your stone it’s…

Hammer Time!

This is where you design the game, prototype it, and play it.

Once you’ve played it there will likely be parts of the game that don’t work, are broken, don’t make any sense, or aren’t fun. Take the hammer to them!

Like making a sculpture, once the stone is in your workshop you typically sketch a little on the block and then start taking the hammer to it. It is time to take away big chunks of the stone that you know you won’t need. Don’t be afraid to remove those big chunks of stone.

Back in the game design world, this is where you remove those chunks of the game that were broken, didn’t make sense, or weren’t fun. Don’t be afraid to get rid of them.

If you have things that don’t make sense thematically… Hammer Time!

If you have mechanics that don’t work right… Hammer Time!

If mechanic X isn’t any fun… Hammer Time!

If you aren’t happy with something… Hammer Time!

The point here is to narrow the focus of the design. Take away the things that obviously don’t belong. If something is iffy, save it for later. Playtest it over and over until you feel you’ve removed all the big chunks. Then put away the hammer and grab the chisel.

Chisel Time!

I know that “Chisel Time” doesn’t sound as awesome as “Hammer Time” but it’s much more important in terms of game design and development. It’s easy to break away the big chunks of a game. But using your fine tools to craft something with elegance and class is very difficult.

Chisel Time is really where you move from game design into the game development realm.

Once you have finished with the hammer you are left with a block of mechanics, components, and concepts that closely resemble a final product. The nitty gritty down and dirty work happens in the Chisel Time phase. This is where you playtest, tweak, playtest, tweak, playtest, tweak, and on and on. You’re no longer removing large chunks from the design. Rather you are polishing the remaining elements to make them as streamlined and perfect as they can be.

So What?

The whole idea here is to give a perspective about how game design works. Relating game design to sculpting stone allows me to have the right mindset when I’m working on a game design. Early in the process it is important to put the elements together and make a prototype. You can’t take a hammer to it unless you know what you want to remove.

Once you’ve hammered away the big chunks then your mindset changes. You’ve got the mechanics you want. Now it is important to figure out how to balance the mechanics and the currency and the other elements in the game. You go from removing elements to refining elements. That’s a lot of work, but it is also one of the most rewarding parts of the design process. Just a couple weeks ago I had refined an element for Brooklyn Bridge and one of the players mentioned how it took it from “Good” to “Special.” That’s really what you’re looking for during Chisel Time.

How do you design games? Do you start big and remove things as you go? Or are you the opposite where you start with a simple element (mechanic or component) and then add the things that are needed?

Monday Brews 7-21-14

Welcome back to Boards & Barley. I’m so glad you’re here. Today we’ve got a standard Monday Brews article but I’ve got some good stuff in the pipe for this week. I’ll have an article about game design regarding when/how to chip away at your game. I’ll also have a Grand Illusion article. And I’m hoping to have one other article for you all on Friday. Not sure of the content yet, but I have a few ideas. It’s about time that I started making this blog rock again, don’t you think??

As a reminder, I want to point you to my article about the new board game publishing company that several friends and I are starting: “It’s Time for a Mutiny!” The company is called Moon Yeti and we are going to be giving away about 100 copies of a sweet microgame called Mutiny at Gen Con. Will you be there?

Now, let’s get on to the Boards & Barley!

The Barley:

You and me goin’ fishin’ in the dark!

BARLEY SPOTLIGHT: Capital Brewery, Fishin’ in the Dark Imperial Schwarzbier

This was a quite enjoyable beer from Capital Brewery. They are located in Middleton, WI and have branched out a bunch since the previous brewmaster left to start Wisconsin Brewing. Capital are brewing some really cool beers. This one seems a fine addition to their lineup.

The Boards:

Lovely artwork, enjoyable game.

BOARDS SPOTLIGHT: Steam Park

This game is pretty legit. The theme is cool and unique. The gameplay is tight. And in the end you find yourself with your own little theme park. That’s pretty sweet.

The game lasts 6 rounds. Each round players roll 6 dice (over and over again) until they get the results they want. Then in turn order (based on who stopped rolling first, second, third, etc.) players will resolve their dice. The dice allow for building rides or stations, finding visitors, cleaning your park, or fulfilling bonus cards.

There is a good amount of forethought necessary when trying to optimize your dice. And there is also a bunch of different ways you could try to win. Players win by having the most money. If your park is too dirty at the end, you will lose money.

Overall I felt the game was a lot of fun. It’s a game I definitely want to play at least one more time.

Horizontal RuleThere you go. I made no game design progress last week, which was extremely disappointing as I am really hoping to get Brooklyn Bridge to a better state prior to Gen Con. It will be a big focus for me this week and I try to hone the design and infuse more fun, more interesting decisions, and more long-game strategy.

What Boards & Barley have you been enjoying?

Monday Brews – 7-14-14

First things first: Today is July 14th… Gen Con starts August 14th. That means we are 1 month away from Gen Con! Woo Hoo!

Now let’s get to the bi-weekly Boards & Barley that I have enjoyed. As usual we’ll start with the Barley.

The Barley:

Clean and friendly with some delicious beer!

BARLEY SPOTLIGHT:

Next Door Hammerhead IPA

As one of my goals for the year I am “adventuring” out of my beer comfort zones and into more varieties of beer. IPAs are one of those varieties that I previously would never have chosen. But I am now embracing them.

In the past I have typically stayed away from hoppy beers. But this beer was actually very drinkable and enjoyable. The hop level wasn’t too strong and it seemed to provide just the right about of character. If you are ever in the Madison area I recommend stopping by Next Door Brewing!

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The Boards:

Simple and elegant artwork and gameplay!

BOARDS SPOTLIGHT: Sushi Go

I played this at Next Door Brewing and I really enjoyed it. It is quick, has beautiful and simple artwork, and the gameplay is elegant.

Sushi Go has a card drafting mechanic similar to the game 7 Wonders. Ultimately, Sushi Go is like 7 Wonders Lite. Take a card, pass the rest, then play the card. The cards present different scoring opportunities. Some have you build a set to score. Some score straight away. Some score at the end of the game. The design is so smooth and simple that it is easy to see why people enjoy this game.

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Designer’s Corner:

With Gen Con one month away it’s really crunch time in terms of the designs I want to show. Brooklyn Bridge is really at the forefront and will be where I place the most effort over the next few weeks. It’s at the point where some of the cards need some tweaking, but ultimately it just needs to be played more.

I would also like to see if I can prototype The Grand Illusion and get in some preliminary playtests, even if it means the first time it gets played is at Gen Con.

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